Living with 1 kidney
Will having only 1 kidney affect my health?
You can live the rest of your life with 1 kidney. Most donors say that their health didn’t change after the operation. Research shows us that having only 1 kidney affects the overall health of only a very small number of kidney donors.
Health issues people with only 1 kidney may have after donating a kidney:
High blood pressure – There’s a very slightly higher risk that you may develop high blood pressure. This would happen over time.
Protein in the urine – Protein isn’t normally found in the urine, but after a donation, this can happen over time and usually doesn’t need to be treated.
Decrease in kidney function – Even though you’ve donated 1 kidney, the remaining kidney will increase how much it works. Your total loss of kidney function is only about 30%. This is enough to live a normal life.
Kidney failure – New research shows that a living donor may have a slightly higher risk of developing kidney failure over their lifetime. Kidney donors are given high priority on the transplant list if they later develop kidney failure.
The Living Donor team will talk with you about your risks during your living donor evaluation.
Can I still get pregnant or father a child if I donate a kidney?
There is no research evidence to show that donating your kidney affects your ability to get pregnant or father a child. If you’ve just had a baby and want to donate a kidney, you’ll usually have to wait 1 year after your pregnancy to donate.
It’s recommended that you not get pregnant for 6 months to 1 year after donation. This lets your body fully recover from the major surgery. Talk with your healthcare provider when you start thinking about having a baby.
Pregnancy does affect the kidneys and having only 1 kidney means you’ll need to be watched carefully for any problems. You’re at a slightly higher risk of having protein in the urine (proteinuria) and high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy after donating a kidney. These conditions usually need treatment with medicines. If you become pregnant after you have donated a kidney it’s important that you talk to your doctor right away. They’ll work with you to carefully watch your kidney function during your pregnancy.
How will becoming a living donor affect my life?
When you’re thinking about becoming a kidney donor it’s important to think about how this may affect you and your family. During the donation process you may want to think about the following.
- Think about how this could affect your other children if you’re a parent donating to a young child.
- Someone may need to help to look after young children if you’re donating to a partner, since both of you will need time to recover.
- You and your family may need physical help and emotional support until you’ve fully recovered.
- Sometimes unexpected health problems are found during the living donor evaluation. As a result, you may need other medical treatments that you hadn’t expected.
After you donate a kidney and you’ve recovered from your surgery, most people return to their usual activities and relationships. Talk with your Living Donor Program coordinator or social worker if you have questions about your life and family that aren’t answered in the information you get.
During the living donor evaluation, there is a lot of contact and communication with the donor which will decrease after the donation takes place.
Will my relationship with the recipient change?
If you know who is getting your donated kidney (the recipient), it’s a good idea to talk to them about your decision before you donate. Talking with each other first can make things less stressful for both of you. When you talk about what you expect of each other, being open and direct, you can help keep a good relationship during this process and after the transplant.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with the recipient, you can talk to your Living Donor Program coordinator or the social worker.
Taking care of yourself
You’ll need to protect yourself from exposure to infections or viruses once you’ve decided to donate your kidney. By protecting yourself, you’ll decrease the risk of spreading an infection to the potential recipient.
You need to think about protecting yourself if you’re traveling to other countries. Mosquitos can carry many diseases. You may wish to visit a travel clinic before you travel to see if there are precautions you need to take depending on where you’re going.
If you are thinking about traveling before donation, let the Living Donor Program know. Sometimes, surgery will need to be delayed depending on where you’ve travelled.
Viruses and infections
Viruses can be spread to recipients during a living kidney donation surgery. As a potential donor, your blood is tested for viruses at the beginning of the donor evaluation and again within 30 days of surgery. Your blood is tested for common viruses and infections like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis. Different types of viruses may affect your eligibility to donate. For more information, talk to your Living Donor Program.
All Living Donor Programs in Canada now screen all potential donors for COVID-19. If you screen positive for COVID-19, you can still donate, but your living donor evaluation and timeline to donate may be delayed.
Potential donors can lower the risk of infection to potential recipients by:
- not having any body piercings, tattoos, acupuncture, or electrolysis once the evaluation to become a potential donor starts
- practicing safe sex, like using condoms, to lower the risk of a sexually transmitted infection
- letting the Living Donor Program know if you may have been exposed to a virus by accident or through high-risk activity
- not doing high-risk activities like using recreational drugs
If a potential donor tests positive for a viral infection, this result must be shared with the recipient’s Transplant program.
If you have any questions or concerns about donating a kidney, talk to someone from the Living Donor Program.
During the living donor evaluation, there’s a lot of communication between the donor and the Living Donor Program team. Once the donation has been done there’s usually less contact with the donor team. This is normal but remember, the Living Donor Program team is still there to support you after donation.